In the mid-1970s, Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to film Dune (working with artists including H.R. Giger). A documentary about that attempt was filmed by Frank Pavich, who now writes in the New York Times that “The cast would have included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí and Alejandro’s 12-year-old son, Brontis, in the lead role. The soundtrack would have been composed and recorded by Pink Floyd…. It will forever be the greatest film never made, because it exists solely in our imaginations.”
Just because you cannot watch Alejandro’s “Dune” doesn’t mean it didn’t change the world. This unfilmed film’s influence on our culture is nothing short of astounding. Specific ideas and images from the “Dune” art bible have escaped into the world. They can be experienced in movies such as “Blade Runner,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Prometheus,” “The Terminator” and even the original “Star Wars.” His “Dune” does not exist, yet it’s all around us.
Nearly half a century later…
I was recently shown some frames from a film that I had never heard of: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1976 version of “Tron.” The sets were incredible. The actors, unfamiliar to me, looked fantastic in their roles. The costumes and lighting worked together perfectly. The images glowed with an extravagant and psychedelic sensibility that felt distinctly Jodorowskian.
However, Mr. Jodorowsky, the visionary Chilean filmmaker, never tried to make “Tron.” I’m not even sure he knows what “Tron” is. And Disney’s original “Tron” was released in 1982. So what 1970s film were these gorgeous stills from…? The truth is that these weren’t stills from a long-lost movie. They weren’t photos at all. These evocative, well-composed and tonally immaculate images were generated in seconds with the magic of artificial intelligence.
The article notes that the real Jodorowsky is now almost 94 — and is planning to direct a new film. But it also points out that in the early 1970s Jodorowsky’s team put in “two years of pure analog struggle to create his Dune,” — while Canadian film director Johnny Darrell generated the Tron images in less than a minute using an A.I. program called Midjourney. Pavich says this raises several questions. “Has Alejandro been robbed? Is the training of this A.I. model the greatest art heist in history? How much of art-making is theft, anyway?”
In his great documentary F for Fake Orson Welles intones wrly that “A forgery — is still a painting.” So Pavich’s piece concludes with perhaps the ultimate question. “What will it mean when directors, concept artists and film students… can paint using all the digitally archived visual material of human civilization? When our culture starts to be influenced by scenes, sets and images from old films that never existed or that haven’t yet even been imagined?
“I have a feeling we’re all about to find out.”